1846: Rev. Samuel Dickinson Burchard to Agnes M. (Dilks) Leeds

Schedule for Steamer St. Louis out of Buffalo in 1845
Schedule for Steamer St. Louis out of Buffalo in 1845

This interesting letter was written by Samuel Dickinson Burchard (1811-1891), the son of Jabez Burchard (1765-1844) and Lucinda Barton (1768-1833). Samuel, a Presbyterian minister, wrote the letter from a steamboat on Lake Erie while traveling to Prairieville (now Waukesha), Wisconsin with his older brother, Charles Burchard (1810-1879) in August 1846. Rev. Burchard was the pastor of the Houston Street Presbyterian Church at the corner of Houston and Thompson Streets in New York City in the mid-1840s. He is best known for having coined the slogan, “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” in referring to the opposition Democratic Party while campaigning for the Republican candidate, James G. Blaine. Unfortunately, the slogan had the unintended consequence of backfiring on the Republicans and Burchard is often blamed for causing the defeat of his candidate.

The letter was addressed to Mrs. Agnes M. (Dilks) Leeds (1811-1883) — a widow being courted by Rev. Burchard. Her deceased husband, Henry Leeds, died in 1843, and she married Rev. Samuel Burchard in May 1847.

Rev. Burchard writes of his observations of emigrants, attending commencement exercises at Hamilton College, and of his health.

1846 Letter
1846 Letter

Addressed to Mrs. Agnes M. Leeds, 136 Mercer Street, New York
Postmarked, Cleveland, Ohio

Steam Boat St. Louis
Aug 26th [1846]

My Dear Agnes,

I am now moving over the waters of the noble [Lake] Erie. On every side of me are the moving tides of fashionable life. A thronging multitude on excursions of business and pleasure. Some leaving the homes of their childhood for the “far West” going thither to form new associations, new ties, new tendrels which time or another removal will again sever. What a changing, fleeting thing human life is. How varied its aspects and conditions!

Below, on the forward deck is a host of emigrants, having left the father land for a home in the Western World. They are mostly Germans — sons of the soil — hardy, industrious and temperate. They have heard of our boundless prairies, of our fertile lands, of our self supporting and republican government, and they have come to share our privileges and destiny. May we meet them with the Christian handoff Christian courtesy and extend to them the privileges of our free & favored institutions.

Yesterday Evening [Tuesday, August 25, 1846], I left the City of Buffalo for Wisconsin. I expected to start on this tour the day after writing to you, but I waited a week for the company of my eldest brother. That week was taken up in attending commencements at Hamilton [College] which continued two days and also in visiting my friends. I tried hard to steal an hour to write to you countermanding the direction in relation to your letter. Now I must wait still another week before I hear a word from you. Only think, it is two weeks today since I left New York and not a paper or a line I have I received from you. And now I must wait nearly a week longer. It is too bad, but I am to blame — not you. Doubtless you have written before this and the letter is quietly waiting my arrival at Prairieville [Waukesha, Wisconsin] where my brother resides. My plans should have been more mature and definite before I gave orders in relation to the direction of your letters. But you must make up lost time now and write immediately on the reception of this. Direct as before. We shall be in Milwaukie on Saturday afternoon and if possible I shall get to my brothers to spend the Sabboth. If not, I must stay there until Monday, but the idea of receiving a letter from you at Prairieville renders me impatient to reach there this week. My brother is with me and will take the whole tour with me. We expect to spend about two weeks in Wisconsin and Michigan so that it will be impossible for me to be home as soon as I expected when I left the city. I hope however to be home between the 15th and 20th of September.

Thus far my tour and visits have been pleasant. The Lake is calm and smooth and its boundless expanse is beautiful and sublime. In Buffalo, a beautiful and accomplished young lady was put under my charge for Milwaukie. She is from Bath, Steuben County, [New York] and is going out to visit a sister. She is decidedly sensible, full of poetry & life, and her charms are such that she might be dangerous company for me if my heart were not pledged to another. But amid every scene of interest and fascination my heart is true to its chosen object. I do not forget you on these Western waters and the scenes of trial and of transport through which we have passed. I think of you often and hourly and the pleasure of my excursion would be greatly heightened if you were by my side cheering me with your smiles and presense. You can make me happy. And Providence permitting, you shall have the opportunity and privilege. Shall you thus regard it as privilege? Or have you ceased to think of me and love me? Are you true to the trust committed to you?

We are now within a few miles of Cleveland, Ohio. I shall mail this there and I trust it will reach you this week. Don’t fail to write immediately, and if I get another opportunity of writing and mailing a letter, you may hear from me again before I reach Prairieville. Thus three letters will you have received without my getting one. You ought to write very lengthy.

My health continues good, except that I took a very severe cold riding in the [railroad] cars all night from Syracuse to Buffalo. I slept none and was sneezing all night. I hope you and the children are well and happy. I am afraid you will be troubled to read this — the Boat trembles so that I cannot write in my natural hand. See what a long letter I have written you. Believe truly yours and forever, — Samuel

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